Higher flood-insurance premiums have begun to kick into effect in Scituate and Marshfield, but local officials are still optimistic that federal legislators can reverse the tide.
As of Oct. 1, newly purchased homes and commercial properties already in the flood zone lost their grandfathered rates, and will begin to see increases of 20-25 percent until “actuarial” rates, newly created and often several times higher than existing, are achieved.
Come 2014, all other flood zone homeowners will face a similar fate, and while local and state legislators work for a change, residents are being encouraged to pay the differences in the interim.
“The advice is they absolutely must try to keep their flood insurance current,” said state Representative Jim Cantwell. “The best hope we have is for people currently in the program is to have congressional action that either grandfathers their class [or postpones implementation].”
The changes are only the beginning for coastal homeowners, many more of which will soon have to pay rates due to an expansion of Federal Emergency Management Assocation flood maps.
In Scituate, 500 homes have been added to the flood plain. In Marshfield, new maps mean that nearly 40 percent of the entire town is listed in the flood zone. And any homeowner with a mortgage in a flood zone is required to have flood insurance.
Though it appears the ship may have already sailed in stemming the changes, Cantwell said work is ongoing to move Congress to action.
In addition to the countless hours spent at the town level to inform residents of the changes, Cantwell has hosted a public forum in Marshfield to bring awareness to the changes, hosted a number of forums with federal legislators to protest the changes, hosted hearings at the state house to investigate how FEMA created the flood maps, and traveled to Washington to meet with even more delegates about the negative impact the changes might have.
Two substantial letters have also been sent in opposition to the flood map changes and insurance reform, one signed by all 51 state representatives and senators urging Congress to freeze the maps and any increase in rates.
Sent Sept. 17, the letter asks for a delays of the federal act behind the flood insurance increases to allow the housing market to recover and allow Congress to study the program’s affordability.
Local legislators have also requested rates include reduced rates for communities that employ mitigation measures or have natural flood impediments.
Each of the state’s federal delegation also signed and sent a letter to Congress on Sept. 26, urging the body to complete an affordability study of the act and delay premium increases in the interim.
The letter also asks a fact checking of the newly expanded maps to ensure accuracy and change the appeals process, which currently has an Oct. 17 deadline, to allow homeowners to protest the changes.
“There is a lot of work we’ve done and our delegation has responded. They have spoken with one unified voice asking their leadership take immediate action,” Cantwell said.
Cantwell is also hopeful the legislation can come up with other ways to make the Flood Insurance program solvent, other than drastically increasing flood rates for waterfront homeowners.
In the interim, Scituate locals are trying to bring an awareness of the issues.
On Sept. 28, Marshfield and Scituate’s Coastal Coalitions joined together to hold a rally against the changes, attended by upwards of 200 people and a slew of local officials.
“It certainly brought an awareness,” said David Ball, member of Scituate’s Coalition. “I think, I hope anyway, that the word is out that both towns have a major problem.”
Ball said beyond that, he is just waiting for the changes to start having more lasting impacts, such as impacting property values.
Scituate Selectman Shawn Harris admitted he hadn’t seen any indication that the rate changes would be postponed, but urged people to keep pushing for change.
“That’s what we said for those people [at the rally] – it’s up to them. They need to call the congressman and US senators and continue the push … We have to keep trying,” he said.